A Welsh Charity is changing lives by connecting local people with the natural resources on their doorstep
The Outdoor Partnership is a multi-award winning charity improving opportunities for thousands of people in Wales to achieve their potential through outdoor activities. The Outdoor Partnership has been operating since 2004 bringing public, private and third sector organisations together to work effectively in the outdoor sector towards a common mission.
The charity was set up because there was an abundance of natural resources and facilities but few opportunities for and little engagement with local communities in North West Wales. Outdoor activities were something visitors and tourists did. During this time a report by Bangor University (2003) showed the negative impact the Foot and Mouth outbreak during 2001-2 had on the outdoors and the outdoor tourism industry in North West Wales. The report also identified a lack of engagement between local people and the outdoor industry in that limited outdoor activities were taught in schools, the limited number of local clubs were predominantly run by visitors and there was no pathway for improvement or employment. Most outdoor centres were staffed by instructors from other parts of the UK and only 4% of instructors were locally educated and spoke Welsh. The lack of Welsh speaking instructors impacted on engagement with local schools. Employment of local people in the sector was largely restricted to low paid roles such a catering, maintenance and housekeeping.
Over the last 14 years the charity has been inspiring people to participate in outdoor sports as a life-long pursuit, through a sustainable continuum from first time experiences, community development programmes, further learning, training, regular participation, volunteering and employability programmes.
Prior to this time, joining an outdoor club in North Wales would have been a very rare occurrence if you were a local resident and volunteering in the outdoors was virtually non-existent. Outdoor adventure didn’t really exist in the Culture of North Wales, despite the wealth of natural resource in the area, such as the Snowdonia National park and Anglesey area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB):
“Only tourists climb!”
In 2005, the Outdoor Partnership began to turn its Mission into reality. Early work programmes focused on developing a continuum which could inspire local people to take up outdoor activities as a life-long pursuit. This involved setting up sustainable outdoor activity clubs in local communities across the three counties of Gwynedd, Ynys Mon and Conwy. Some of the early clubs included the Anglesey Adventure Club, Clwb Antur Dyffryn Peris, Clwb Antur Glaslyn and Clwb Beicio Mynydd Dyffryn Conwy.
One of the biggest challenges was to recruit local qualified, Welsh speaking coaches and leaders which, at that time, were few and far between. So, with the help of the Outdoor Partnership staff team, the clubs recruited qualified outdoor instructors from local authority outdoor education centres to help them establish themselves, attract new members and offer a series of club sessions. This model was not sustainable; a Coach Education programme was needed to help support local people on the journey to becoming qualified volunteer leaders.
Another challenge to overcome was that volunteers in the outdoors need to acquire special skills, which are often gained from experience over time. To gain outdoor qualification takes a lot of time, effort and cost, so for most voluntary leaders this is not realistic with the pressures of ‘modern life’.
Thanks to initial funding from Sport Wales, the WCVA and National Lottery Funding, the Outdoor Partnership overcame these barriers by establishing, what is now, a sustainable and inclusive ‘Coach Education’ programme, with the Outdoor Partnership as an organisation providing advocacy and support to independent community based outdoor clubs. The programme includes a series of mentor support sessions preparing new volunteers working towards National Governing Body awards, pre-requisite training and National Governing Body qualifications, CPD workshops including Safeguarding, First Aid, Disability Inclusion Training and many more.
Over the past 14 years the Outdoor Partnership has trained 4500 volunteers, who in turn provide regular participation and training for thousands of local people of all ages. Mountain Training UK identified that for every leader trained that person goes on to have an influence on 10 other people.
The project has developed to support volunteering roles other than just leaders and instructors and provides realistic opportunity for people with no outdoor skills to volunteer in a variety of roles within clubs, such as committee roles, equipment officers and social secretaries.
More recently the Outdoor Partnership has started providing its own volunteering opportunities at festivals, competitions and within environmental groups. Recently the charity has recruited four new volunteers with specialist skills onto the board of trustees improving the equality and diversity of the board.
The Outdoor Partnership has been instrumental in developing the outdoor activity volunteering culture in North Wales, from specialist activity for a select few, to an everyday norm available to all.
The charity’s successful and innovative approach has been recognised as an example of best practice by Sport Wales and has been awarded significant National Lottery Community Fund grants to extend this work to other regions in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.